Father emerged from the forest with a burden slung over one shoulder. His bow clung to the other with a quiver of arrows resting somewhat between the two. He walked up to our camp still careful not to make noise as his bare feet stepped on the rich dirt. His skin was dark and rough, resembling the color and texture of the trees around him.
He reached camp and sat on one of the large rocks that were strewn about it. He laid down what I could now see was a large boar on the ground and thanked the creature for its provision. He then pulled a crude dagger from his belt and began skinning the animal.
I sat at the fire that Mother and I had just made and prodded it with a small stick.
"How was the hunt?" I asked.
"Not too challenging today. I have been tracking this boar for about a week. I already knew where to find him," my father said.
"Thank you, Father. Boar is my favorite!" I said with a big smile.
"Kaia, we owe it to the boar to respect him even in death."
I looked back down at the fire. "Sorry, Father."
"But they are tasty," he said. I looked up to find a small smirk on his face and a grin returned to mine as well.
Mother wasn't far off gathering more firewood. She glanced up, saw that Father was back, and headed back with a bundle of sticks in her arms. She too wore simple clothes; old worn leather made a skirt and top, while the rest was bare. Her bark-like skin resembled that of Father, but hers was slightly lighter in shade. She wore hair that was dense, with dreads like vines, and she walked like she knew who she was, something that I had never seen the Humans pull off.
She placed her armful of branches in the usual spot, under a small collection of leafy plants to protect it from the rain. She took a few of the sticks with her as she walked over and sat on a stone next to me. "Well done," she said to Father. She placed the sticks on the fire and then looked at me. "Kaia, why don't you show your father what you learned today?"
I nodded and then focused on the ground in front of me. I could feel a small portion of the energy run through me and then leave, into the ground. Mother said the trick wasn't that I needed to use a lot of it, just that I needed to shape it correctly. A green glow formed on the ground and a small seedling peaked through. I carefully pulled my hand up and the plant followed, growing in size and color. Leaves formed, and flowers bloomed and then wilted. When I was done, a small plant stood on the ground with three bright red berries hanging from it. I picked one off and handed it to Father.
"Teaberries!" he said, "I love teaberries!" acting more like a child than I had about the boar. He grabbed the berry and popped it into his mouth, cherishing the taste. He looked at Mother and said, "Well, I am happy to see you are finally teaching her something useful." He gave Mother a playful look and she laughed in response.
Father finished skinning and gutting the boar, and then ran a stake through it and hung it over the fire. When he stood from the fire to clean his hands at a nearby stream, he froze in place instead, with wide eyes.
A voice broke the silence. "Hello there."
Shocked to hear someone other than my parents, I poked my head above the bushes that surrounded our camp to see its source. A man, Human, with blond hair cut short on the side and long on top, stood with hands on his hips, his hairy chin cocked upward. He wore a red shirt that was swallowed up by a surprising number of belts around his waist. My viewing was cut short by Father shoving my head behind his back.
"The polite response would be to say 'Hello', maybe a 'How do you do?', but you savages were never much for manners, huh?" said the man.
The voice continued. "No response, huh? Well, you all must have been here a long time. Heck, I didn't even think there were any of you Treeks left, but here we are. And this whole time, you have been, what, hiding in our forests and eating our game? Leeching off of our land? That doesn't sound fair, now does it?"
I could now see other Humans spreading out from the one with the belts and emerging from behind trees. A few of them chuckled along with belt-man's question.
"We mean you no harm. Let us leave and you'll never see us again." Father said.
"Hah. That's what I'm afraid of. But, you see, bringing you in to pay for your crimes is the right thing to do. I'd get a nice ransom too. So why don't you just come with me, and we'll get this all squared away," said the man.
More Humans were now visible. There had to be at least eight that I could see, forming a circle around us.
Father looked at Mother who was now also guarding me from the side, and then he looked back toward the man. "Alright, just don't hurt us." He bent down as if he was going to pick me up, but instead grabbed his bow with one hand, and an arrow with the other. By the time he stood back up with an arrow knocked, Mother had already raised a thicket of thorns, entrapping the man with the belts. All at once, screams from the Humans cried out. Father released his arrow hitting an archer in the shoulder. Mother turned to me.
"Run, Kaia!" she said. "We'll come find you, but you need to run!"
I was shocked, standing still, not knowing what was happening, or what it meant for our family. I was scared, terrified. We had run from the Humans for so long. What would happen if they caught us? What would they do to mother and father? To me?
Mother turned to one of the charging Humans and slapped his weapon from his hand with a nearby tree branch. Blasts of fire started shooting from the thicket of vines where the man was trapped and arrows whizzed by us.
"Run, Kaia!" she said again, and that time I did.
I ran the opposite direction of the flaming thicket of thorns toward what looked like the only hole in the circle of Humans.
I pushed through the bushes at the edge of camp. As I did, two Humans came running at me. One was a woman with her hair in a tight braid. She ran towards me yelling while holding a battleaxe out to her side. The other was a short man with a small, but growing ball of fire in one hand.
The woman was only a few feet from me, so I flicked my hands and a small root pulled up from the ground and snagged her foot. She fell in a heap and I jumped over her as she skidded to a halt.
I heard an arrow impact someone in my camp and looked back to see Father groaning, the arrow sticking out of his thigh. He pushed himself up onto one leg and began lacing another arrow onto his own bowstring. "Father!" I yelled as my running slowed.
The approaching footsteps drew my gaze back to the Human wielding the fireball, which was now the size of a coconut. He joined both hands together, pushing them away from his chest, and a torrent of fire came barrelling towards me. I tried to dodge, but the distraction cost me. It blasted my arm with a surge of searing pain. The pain overtook me and I fell to the ground.
The man stepped forward, grabbed me by the hair, and held me aloft. He looked me in the eyes and spoke with yellowed teeth and foul breath. "Even their children are ugly," he said, talking through me.
I heard an arrow impact behind me and a feminine groan of pain. Then I saw a faint green glow in the tree above us. A vine shot down, wrapping around the man's neck, and pulling him upward. He lost his grip on me, began clawing at the vine noose, and then disappeared into the treetops.
I stared up at the tree, shocked. The throbbing pain on my arm brought my eyes back to it. The flesh was gooey with blood. Then I heard my mother's voice.
"Kaia, run!" I looked at my mom with tears now streaming down my face. Humans surrounded them, and the campfire roared with fire magic. "Run!" She said one final time, and I did. I ran.
It's all I had ever known.